When it comes to the conversation of the greatest male marathon runners in the modern era, there is no conversation. It begins and ends with Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, and everyone else can debate over second place.
Kipchoge heads to Tokyo as the reigning Olympic marathon champion, the favorite once again, with nothing left to prove except putting more distance between him and history. At the age of 36 it’s unclear how many more games we’ll get to see his brilliance, so it’s worth appreciating it while we can.
The most remarkable thing about Kipchoge’s career is that it almost never happened. A established and successful distance runner, there wasn’t anything particularly outstanding about his performances. Sure, Kipchoge won silver in the 5000m in Beijing in 2008, but plenty of other runners have done the same. It wasn’t until 2013 that Kipchoge made the decision to concentrate on longer distances, and immediately everything clicked.
At his debut in the Hamburg marathon he not only beat his competition by over two minutes, but set a course record — this was in his marathon debut. From this point forward there was nobody in the world who could hold a candle to Kipchoge’s brilliance. This would also be the last year he finished second place in a major marathon ... to anyone.
From 2014 to 2019, Kipchoge won every single gold medal in world marathon majors. He also won gold in Rio in 2016, but the legendary achievement, the one that will live in history, was his record-breaking run at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, which saw Kipchoge run a completely unbelievable 2:01:39. The first person to ever finish a marathon in under 2:02, beating the previous mark by 78 seconds.
Determined to make history again, Kipchoge set a record acknowledged by the Guinness Book when he ran 1:59:40 on a track over a marathon distance in 2019. It’s not officially recognized as a true marathon record, as it took place in a simulated environment with pace cars and ample hydration, but as testament to the impossible being possible. That a human can run that fast, for that long — somehow.
It’s been a remarkable and inspirational career for a boy who used to run two miles to school each day, now on top of the world as one of the greatest Olympians in modern history, and a sporting hero in Kenya. Now he’s aiming to win his next Olympic gold, and it will be up to every other runner in the world to try and stop him.
How to watch Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo
- Men’s marathon: Saturday, August 7 at 6:00 p.m. ET